Critical discourse on substance abuse in South African Schools

At the last Sizabantwana meeting Ms Reema Nunlall came to chat to the Sizabantwana teachers about drug abuse in South African schools. The meeting with Ms Nunlall was relaxed and interactional. Ms Nunlall asked the teachers why drug use is such a big problem in schools and encouraged the teachers to share their experiences and opinions. Many inputs were offered and discussed and many reasons for drug use were identified, in particular South Africa's unique drug history and association.

In the discussion Ms Nunlall described some of the legislation that pertains to drug use in the South African context. Possible consequences of drug use in schools were identified such as arrest, poverty, crime, and cognitive impairment to name a few, and these were discussed in some detail. Ms Nunlall went on to discuss the different types of drugs that are commonly used in the South African context including both licit and illicit drugs as well as the narcotic class.

For the rest of the meeting the teachers debated the question of whether drug users (especially child users) should be considered victims or offenders. This was a very interesting and poignant discussion as it was acknowledged that sometimes the environment and experiences that children are exposed to may leave them with few alternatives. Addiction was another important factor that was discussed when debating the question, as many drug users cannot break their addiction without external help and therefore continue using drugs despite the consequences of doing so. Many of the teachers agreed that there was a threshold that distinguished offenders from victims with regard to drug abuse. They believed that those that commit crimes in order to obtain drugs or who become violent have crossed that threshold and have become offenders, while those who struggle to overcome their addictions without harming others could be considered victims. This sparked further debate which was not entirely concluded.

What was agreed on in the end was that drug interventions at a societal level need to be holistic and consider the context and circumstance of each individual. The teachers were given homework of identifying five protective factors and five risk factors that may be found in the school environment.

Thank you Ms Reema Nunlall for sharing your wisdom and helping to empower our teachers to help those children in need. We look forward to hearing from you again to discuss protective and risk factors.

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